The 2023 NFL Draft got going Thursday evening from Kansas City. Round 1 was filled with a ton of surprises and a couple blockbuster trades as the league’s 32 teams navigated through the first day of the annual event.
Three quarterbacks found themselves off the board within the first-four picks for just the third time since 1972. It’s surprising given that reports questioned this quarterback class heading in.
We also saw several surprises as Thursday night played out. Let’s check in on the top-six takeaways from Kansas City during Round 1 of the draft.
Related: 2023 NFL Draft tracker and grades
Carolina Panthers get their guy in Bryce Young
When general manager Scott Fitterer and Co. traded up from the ninth pick to No. 1 overall back in March, the idea was for Carolina to finally add that franchise quarterback of the future. The Panthers had been in quarterback purgatory since Cam Newton started his regression back in 2019.
First-year head coach Frank Reich noted during the pre-draft process that they made their selection roughly a week ago. It had been a foregone conclusion for some time now.
Carolina now turns its attention to moving forward with the smallish 5-foot-10 Bryce Young as its franchise guy. The cost of two first-round picks, two second-round picks and Pro Bowl wide receiver D.J. Moore was expensive.
With that said, the modern NFL requires a franchise quarterback. After hiring the offensive-minded Reich as their head coach, the Panthers were always going to go quarterback. We will see if Young’s frame can hold up at the next level. But he has everything to succeed in Carolina.
Two running backs within the first 12 picks
A running back had not gone in the top-20 selections of the NFL Draft since Saquon Barkley was picked No. 2 overall by the New York Giants back in 2018. The devaluation of this position in recent years was a major storyline heading into Thursday night.
Like clockwork, the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions changed the narrative in a big way. Atlanta went with former Texas star Bijan Robinson with the eighth selection, giving them another weapon to go with quarterback Desmond Ridder, young wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts. Atlanta made this decision despite boasting the third-best rushing attack in the NFL a season ago.
In even more shocking fashion, the Lions landed former Alabama star Jahmyr Gibbs at 12 after trading down from the sixth selection. Detroit is not sold on former second-round pick D’Andre Swift staying healthy. Even then, it was a surprise to see the team select RB2 in this draft within the first-12 selections. One has to wonder whether the 2023 NFL Draft was an outlier or if teams are starting to value running backs more.
Teams continue to value EDGE rushers in the NFL Draft
A total of four edge pass rushers went within the top-15 picks Thursday night, starting with Will Anderson Jr. to the Houston Texans at two. The Las Vegas Raiders added former Texas Tech star Tyree Wilson at seven, giving a talent-stricken defense more juice to pair with Maxx Crosby upfront.
There were two perceived reaches in the teens with the Green Bay Packers selecting Lukas Van Ness at 13 and the New York Jets adding Iowa State star Will McDonald IV at 15. This really goes to show us how much teams value edge pass rushers in a pass-first NFL today. It’s at the point that we can’t even call first-round picks at this position real reaches.
In all, six edge guys went within the first 31 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. It’s the sixth time over the past eight years that at least five edge rushers have gone in the first round. This is becoming more than a trend.
Talk of a talent-stricken wide receiver class comes to fruition
The last time a wide receiver didn’t go in the top-12 of an NFL Draft was back in 2019 when Marquise Brown was the first player at this position picked to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 25. That draft class was not top-heavy but proved itself to be deep. Pro Bowlers Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf all found themselves as second-round picks that year.
The first wide receiver in this draft to go was Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba to the Seattle Seahawks at 20. He dealt with hamstring issues a season ago, leading the star pass-catcher falling below where he was projected to go. Quentin Johnston went to the Los Angeles Chargers with the very next pick. It started a run of four consecutive wide receivers to go in the 20s.
What does this tell us? Teams viewed the 2023 NFL Draft as weak from the top. We are now going to see a ton of talent go off the board on Day 2 come Friday evening.
Will Levis could be turning point in NFL Draft evaluation of QBs
It was three years ago that the 6-foot-4 Levis was seemingly a lock to go within the top-five picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. The former Kentucky star boasts elite-level arm strength, is your prototypical signal caller in terms of frame and enticed teams with his all-around talent.
Even throughout the pre-draft process, it looked like Levis was going to go in the top 10. That’s when reports broke about several NFL teams questioning Levis’ mentality and personality. This led to Levis falling completely out of the first round.
It’s interesting to look at. The 5-foot-10 Bryce Young was selected with the first pick. Even with questions surrounding his C2 Cognition score (more on that below), C.J. Stroud found himself picked second overall. A late riser, Anthony Richardson from Florida was the fourth pick of the Indianapolis Colts. Is it possible that teams are now changing their evaluation of quarterbacks in the NFL Draft? Levis could be the most-recent example. It could also be about concerns over a toe injury that might require surgery. At this point, we have no idea.
Houston Texans say go big or go home in NFL Draft
A lot was made about former Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and a potential fall down the NFL Draft board due to a low S2 Cognition score (read more on that here). We have to give the Texans credit for not overthinking this. They went up to the podium and took Stroud to be their franchise guy moving forward.
On the field, Stroud has more than proven himself to be a top-end talent. Over the course of the course of his final two seasons at Ohio State, Stroud registered 85 touchdown passes compared to just 12 interceptions. The dude was elite.
In shocking fashion, the Texans then moved up from No. 12 overall to the third selection with the Arizona Cardinals to select the best edge rusher in the game in that of Alabama’s Will Anderson. Questions will be raised about the asking price (early 2023 second-rounder, first and third rounders in 2024). With that said, the idea of being aggressive to overhaul one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL made a ton of sense.